Over the course of my career, I’ve done hundreds of presentations on post-secondary education. One the biggest concerns families express relates to cost. Almost immediately after discussing fees, the conversation turns to financial aid.
Need-based and merit-based aid
In Canada and the United States, the two major sources of funding for financial aid are the federal and provincial/state governments, and the educational institutions themselves. The two major categories of financial aid are need-based aid and merit-aid. Need-based aid is awarded to students to help cover the difference between what the government/university calculates the family is able to pay, and the actual cost to attend. Merit-based aid is different in that it is often independent of financial-need. Academic and athletic scholarships are just two examples of merit-based aid.
In order to qualify for financial aid, generally you need to apply. Many universities offer automatic scholarship programs strictly based on final grades. Certainly the most prestigious – and often the more sizable – scholarships will require and application.
External Scholarship Sources
Other sources of financial support are external groups such as businesses, associations and foundations.
While it’s relatively easy to find information on scholarships offered by governments and institutions, finding information on opportunities funded by community groups and private companies requires much more time and effort. The following are some avenues you may investigate:
- Service clubs such as Rotary and Lions
- High schools or school boards may offer graduating scholarships to graduating students
- Employee unions and groups
- Charitable organizations
- Your parent’s place of work; check with Human Resources
- Veterans organizations
In my research, I found that most external awards are modest compared to those offered by governments and institutions. Don’t let that deter you from applying. In fact, your chances are likely higher because so many others passed on the opportunity to apply.
If you are granted a scholarship valued at $500, and it only took you two hours to complete the application, you’ve made $250 per hour on that exchange. Not bad for a high school student, eh?
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
As is the case with most things, the sooner you engage with the university application process, the more time you’ll have to evaluate available scholarship options. Ontario residents typically complete financial aid applications in the spring of the grade 12 through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
Application deadlines for scholarships, particularly major university scholarships, may be as early as the fall of grade 12. Have a list of preferred universities by the start of grade 12 so you can identify the full range of scholarship opportunities.
Inevitably, scholarships that are not automatic, like the more prestigious institutional or external awards, will require a personal statement. A good response to questions posed results from deep self-analysis. It is not easy to write a thoughtful response so give yourself time.
Check out our resources list for useful scholarship and financial aid websites.
Planning to study abroad?
Students applying to American universities must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and/or College Scholarship Service PROFILE to be considered for financial aid. Check with the universities on your list regarding their preferred procedure to apply for institutional aid and for deadlines. While international students are generally not eligible for government aid, you may qualify for institutional aid.
You should also find out whether government aid in your country is portable to the United States and to Canada. In the case of Ontario, students considering out-of-province universities may be eligible for a mix of grants and loans, if the university is on OSAP’s approved list.